As I mentioned last week, knowing that I can glorify God both ethically (my motives and the capacity of my work to serve good purposes in the world) and skillfully (the quality of my work) is the only part of working that brings me lasting, consistent happiness in my job. It fortifies me for the drudgery my job often affords me – work, at present, is more of a drain than a delight, and finding the pleasure of God in the midst of an unpleasant position is the only hope that keeps me going.
What I want to get at this week is an area of particular burden for me. You see, I am concerned that the church has a bad habit of forgetting that the God who is holy is also the God who is able, is competent, is skillful. Therefore, we who bear His image must also demonstrate ability, competency, and skill in our labor, and the more we excel in a given trade, art, or craft, the more of the excellency of God we have the potential to display. I’m sure this will sound controversial, “You mean to tell me that some people, by virtue of their competency, are more able to glorify God than others?” In a sense, yes. But this should be no surprise. We believe this to be the case with ethics; why not with talent and skill? But maybe I should illustrate.
One of the most common examples of how our vocations can put God’s creative glory on display is the arts. This, I suspect, is because the arts are at once so terribly impractical and so irresistibly captivating. It’s exactly the way much of creation functions. Flowers didn’t have to be beautiful in order to serve their more practical purposes. The human voice did not have to be capable of song, but only speech. And yet there are few instruments so enchanting, so moving, so captivating as the human voice in song.
My wife loves the arts, and over the last 3 and a half years of our marriage, I’ve come to appreciate vocal talent more than I ever thought possible. Along the way, I’ve come to see the half-truth we tell people when we say that God doesn’t care how you sound when you sing. Ethically, this is true. If your heart is set on bringing Him pleasure, you can be as off-key and pitchy as they come, and your intentions make your efforts good – ethically. But when God had Israel build His tabernacle, He equipped already-skilled craftsman with a level of skill not their own (Exodus 31:1-11). Why? Because He wanted the tabernacle that represented His dwelling place to be as beautiful as, if not more beautiful than, humanly possible so it could represent it as accurately as possible. So it is with singing: beautiful vocals are but an echo of the voice of the One who spoke beauty into existence. Skill in singing represents the skill with which God vocalizes.
The key to keep from missing the point here is to remember that there are two categories at play: ethics and skill. A good heart is always more important to God than a good brush or a good voice. God is pleased when we offer sincere praise with an honest, though out-of-tune, song. But when God gifts someone with a sonorous singing voice, it is to display His glory in another way, a way that aids us in seeing His beauty through our ears.
But the arts aren’t the only avenue for putting the glorious skill of God on display. The business world offers a whole host of possibilities for glorifying God that seem to go vastly overlooked. I have recently been impressed (and intimidated) by the brilliance of Microsoft Excel. I can handle Word, Outlook, PowerPoint, etc. But Excel is a beast. Pivot tables, pivot charts, V-Lookups, Macros – the program has its own vocabulary. When most people think of Excel, they think of numbers. But Excel is so much more, and what I have seen is a group of people – a tribe, if you will – that go by the title, “Analyst.” And these Analysts can make Excel sing. They can take massive reports – long lists of days, months, dollar amounts, quantities, vendor names, client names, and more – and reshape the volumes of information into something intelligible and practical. Pages of unfiltered information are condensed into charts, graphs, and filterable content that make a director’s life a dream.
And I’m not sure we realize that the ability to take raw data and turn it into actionable information is an expression of wisdom. This is what wisdom does – it takes the facts, however few or many one has, about God, others, and a given situation, and turns out decisions that work for the benefit of everyone involved. This is the means by which God created the world (Proverbs 8). This wisdom is a personification of Christ who is the express image of God and, “became for us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification and redemption” (1 Corinthians 1:30, ESV). And this wisdom is what’s on display when some quiet soul behind a computer takes page upon page of raw data and produces the kind of information that keeps a company in business.
Again, the ethical component is essential when it comes to pleasing God. The novice’s lacking report can bring God more glory than the senior’s work of genius, because the former was done with God in mind, while the latter was done in the name of Mammon. But the skill demonstrated by a deviant heart is still skill that points to its Creator, to the Author of skill, the supremely Competent One. The image of God is still present, even in the most vile members of our race (which, in a real sense, is all of us), and though sinful efforts are filthy rags, insofar as righteousness is concerned, no amount of sin can eclipse the glory of the God who produced the skill that is on display.
As it is with these observations, so it is with your vocation. If you are a believer, then you are in a uniquely fortunate position, for you have the potential to glorify God both ethically and skillfully. The intentions of your heart, though they are mixed, can please God and show forth His righteousness and love in a way that no sinner can. Along with that, you can pursue excellence in your trade, your art, your craft, with the intention of putting as much of the brilliance of your Maker on display as possible so that what you do brings a holistic glory to the One Who made every part of you – heart and hands – and uses every last bit to His chief end: the glory of His exceptional Name.